Old friends reunite in hopes of derailing Hitler’s war machine.
Harris (Conclave, 2016, etc.) returns to familiar territory in his 12th novel. Hugh Legat and Paul von Hartmann became friends as students at pre–World War II Oxford, where Hartmann, a German national, was a Rhodes scholar. Then each went into the service of his country—Legat is the British prime minister’s most junior private secretary, and Hartmann is a member of the German diplomatic corps and one of a group of conspirators who would oust Hitler. The Führer’s 1938 announcement that he intends to annex the Sudetenland, a German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia, brings the two together again. A German invasion of Czechoslovakia would cause a response from France, and a Franco-German war would necessarily involve the U.K. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, determined to avoid such a war, calls for a diplomatic solution, and thus Legat and Hartmann become participants in the Conference of Munich. Chamberlain, pursuing a policy of appeasement, advocates the cession of the Sudetenland. Legat and Hartmann join together to try to avert the appeasement—Legat because he believes no accommodation will deflect Hitler, and Hartmann because he hopes that if Hitler attempts war the army will move against him. Legat and Hartmann move among real historical characters, and Harris skillfully interpolates them into vivid and accurate settings and situations. In particular the portrayal of Chamberlain, often reviled as the man who brought “peace in our time” while Hitler’s forges roared, is humane and sympathetic—and the sly suggestion that he may have known full well what he was doing brightens an ending that is, after all, predetermined.
Engaging, informative, and quietly suspenseful.